The Real Story On The MacGregor 65

[We just got a great comment by Lawrence Trimingham from Bermuda, on our post on a late season crossing in a MacGregor 65, that we thought was so interesting that we are putting it up as a post. Lawrence has literally lived with the boat “man and boy” since his father bought Bermudian Escape 20 plus (?) years ago. He not only addresses the boat’s suitability for the crossing planned by the original questioner, he has also provided a really good overview of this very interesting cruising boat.]

I own a MacGregor 65 and have lived and sailed on her extensively in the eastern Caribbean and have done several passages between the US and Bermuda.

I also crewed on a MacGregor 65 during a storm in the Gulf Stream, with recorded winds of 60kts. No damage occurred. During the storm, the crew took the opportunity to see which angle of sail suited the vessel and crew the best and found that at times it included running off with bare poles. The MacGregor is directionally very stable at speed and does not ‘tow’ a quarter wave like many older heavy displacement sailboats.

Early reefing and minimal sail are the key to comfortably sailing the Mac 65 in a strong wind. As long as this rule is followed, the boat is very steady due to the long waterline and easily driven hull design. It is easy to handle and sea-kindly on all points of sail.

Some other information about the MacGregor 65

The plusses:

  • Due to the long waterline and lack of overhang, the tendency to pitch either underway or at anchor is very low.
  • The sailplan is small enough for me to handle on my own.
  • Motoring is both fast and fuel efficient.
  • One can steer from both inside and out.
  • One hears at times that the MacGregor 65 is flimsily built, (usually from folks who have not even been on one!). Maybe this is because they were designed by Roger MacGregor of the 26ft trailerboat fame. However, if you ask any Mac 65 owner, you will find them generally a very happy lot, including when it comes to boat strength and integrity, especially for the production model with the pilot house (those built after 1987). The structural bulkheads are all solid glass and in certain areas more than 1.5″ inches thick. I know as I have had to drill through several. The hull is also reinforced in the bulkhead areas.

On the minus side:

  • The original 12volt wiring installation was poor.
  • The original lifeline stanchions were too short.
  • The finish trim and furnishings inside the boat are basic when compared with most boats even 20 ft shorter.
  • I would replace the opening ports.
  • While these boats can be found in northern latitudes I am not sure how warm they would be, since there is no built-in insulation. Just a solid fibreglass hull and an interior liner.

As great as these boats are, boats like John and Phyllis’ tough and heavy Morgan’s Cloud are more suited to being hurled about for days in icy northern storm force winds with the odd iceberg floating about!

Would I cross the Atlantic between August and November?  No, not even in a boat like Morgan’s Cloud, because of the risk of very nasty extra-tropical storms between the northern East Coast and Europe.

I opt for comfort, and would come through Bermuda and the Azores in May/June – crossing to Bermuda from the Chesapeake to minimize exposure to Gulf Stream storms.

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Meet the Author

John

John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

44 comments … add one
  • Victor Raymond Jun 2, 2010, 5:52 am

    Thank you John and Lawrence for this very good review of the McGregor 65. I have had an interest in this boat because of the long water line. The interior lack of warmth (in many ways) held me back in considering this vessel as a second home. But for a quick passage maker I am sure there are few equals except perhaps the Dashew’s boat, but that is a completely different price range.

  • Captain Rusty Carney Aug 3, 2010, 9:32 am

    Thank you for putting people straight on the MacGregor 65. I am so tired of reading scathing reviews of them written by people who have never been aboard one. While you covered allot of the positives you did not mention that there is safety in speed. I owned a Morgan 51 Out Island, and while she was a very comfortable 3 bedroom 2 bath home on the water she sailed like a brick. The MacGregor may not have the interior volume but she will literally run off and leave the Morgan in her wake. To me this relates to the safety of a vessel in that storms can be avoided instead of riding them out. The 1995 MacGregor 65 I now own is the fastest and most sea kindly boat I have ever had the pleasure of sailing, comfortable at anchor or even motoring with a quartering sea. There are forward and aft watertight bulkheads and the hull is solid fiberglass…no core! I asked a Tartan rep at a boat show once if their hulls were built using foam or balsa cores and when he realized that I was not a fan of cored hulls stated that they were only cored above the waterline. When I gave him a “duh” look he realized just what he had said and even commented that he had “never thought of it like that”! MacGregor 65’s are eligible for the American Bureau of Shipping’s +A1 rating and for Coast Guard Certification. Those that have been Coast Guard Certified have been rated to carry 49 passengers. To be eligible for this rating the vessel must pass a stability test. The following link will take you to an online copy of the MacGregor 65: http://www.webworldinc.com/heritage/brochure/800cover.htm
    Enjoy the reading!

    • John Aug 3, 2010, 3:31 pm

      Hi Rusty,

      I could not agree with you more: speed is a huge contributor to safety. Not only does it get you out of the way of bad weather, but I’m absolutely convinced that fast boats are, as a general rule of thumb, safer in heavy weather.

      Having said that, good speed offshore is not, in my experience, just a function of weight: There are some fast heavy and thin boats too. But when the interior starts to govern the design, like in your old OI 51, seaworthiness and comfort (when offshore) suffer.

      I’m not big on cores as a general rule, either. Although some great and strong boats have been built with Airex, so it depends on the core and the skill of the builder.

  • Chris Oct 9, 2010, 7:39 pm

    Hi

    I have a Big Mac also and recently sailed it from Seattle to Hawaii and back. The boat is well built except for the rudder post housing design system. The rudder tube is fiberglass and after time it wears and the rudder posts become wobbly, causing steering to bind. A quick repair in Hawaii was an epoxy pour in the tube which held up for just under one year and the wobble is back. I am planning to haul out again and this time put in a new tube (maybe bronze) with bearings at top and bottom, putting the wear on replaceable bearings not the tube.
    It is important to reef early in these boats, they actually go faster with less sail, we found out several hundred miles north of Hawaii when we got overwhelmed with a quick rise in wind with the 130 genoa up. The electric autopilot was on and kept rounding the boat down and so we broached before we could turn off the autopilot to round up, and put the boat on its side and the spreaders in the water. We took water in the cockpit and open windows for about 10 long seconds, then the boat slowly rounded up into the wind and came back up. So, really it is a fairly idiot proof boat, and the 10 year old standing rig stood the loads. It is fairly cold in nw without heat.

  • Peter L Nov 30, 2010, 5:59 pm

    Heard that they are ( Mac Gregor ) considering reintroducing this 65 design again when things ( ECONOMY ) are better. With improvements. Not sure as to what improvements those would be. I hope this is not just talk. The source is close enough to be believable. Look forward to them after the falling sky folks settle down after 2012 passes much like 2000 did. Any one know more about the reintro please share. If you don’t know for sure ( please don’t ).

  • Kelly Jun 13, 2011, 6:47 pm

    The only two things I wish my “Big Mac” had were a bow thruster and a fully enclosed cockpit. I can live without both, just not as comfortable. I will say that I’m just as happy not to have wood down below. We took on water when an air conditioner valve broke and I was just as happy to only have to deal with wet carpeting and not warped floorboards. She’s stark but she’s easy to clean. Though I will say one of the big improvements Roger MacGregor could make would be a less convoluted bilge system. Tell him to give me a call before he starts production— I might be able to think of a couple more things too.

  • John Crill Jul 18, 2011, 3:57 pm

    I’ve also got a Big Mac, 1994, and have noticed a bit of rudder slack. How did you (Chris) sort this out? Did you have to haul the boat or could you repair in the water? I haven’t yet had a good look at the rudder stock.
    Another question. My genoa has expired and I’ve been quoted about $8000 for a new one. I can get a used, but good, one for about $600. But it would need a lead to the deck further forward than the old high cut foresail, ie a genoa track and carriage. Has anyone fitted a track and is the deck strong enough to take it?

    • Chris Mar 7, 2012, 8:34 pm

      Hi, reply to repair of rudder tube, now underway in boatyard replacing with new tube and thordon bearings at bottom and top and then reglassing in new tube.

      I would be cautious about where you attach a sail to the deck.
      Yes, a new genoa is expensive, but given the relative price of the boat better to go with new sails that are made for the boat then cut corners. I did get a used spiinaker – ayssemetrical drifter, for $500 and have flown it without a pole like a super big genoa.

  • Horst Jul 18, 2011, 4:19 pm

    I am interested to buy a Big Mac. During my research I noticed that there was a design change in that the engine was moved back towards the stern together with the prop. Was this done to provide better prop wash to the rudder and improve maneuverability in tight quarters?
    I read in one blog a story about a Mac 65 that ended up against the pilings because it didn’t turn quick enough. I suspect a bow thruster would help as well.
    Any comments in that regards are welcome.

    • Chris Mar 7, 2012, 8:35 pm

      My understanding is the engine was moved to rear for more peace and quiet in the main cabin, its noisy with the engine in the middle of the boat.

  • Dave Sep 15, 2011, 1:32 am

    I owned a 92 Mac 65 for ten years. I loved that boat. Since then I’ve had 2 Hallberg-Rassys, but neither have been as fun as the Mac 65. For the price, I’m not sure another boat compares. Some are trashed out, and not worth consideration, but if an RV interior is ok, and you like awesome sailing (and fast motoring), the Mac 65 is the perfect family cruiser (on steroids).

  • Dave Sep 15, 2011, 1:34 am

    By the way, you can’t put a bowthruster on a Mac 65 as the hull in the forward 15 feet of the boat is not deep enough, and further back the turning moment of the thruster would reduce its effectiveness, not to mention requiring a 10 foot long tube.

  • Sandy Reith Mar 7, 2012, 6:27 pm

    There’s one advertised in Mallorca with a retractable bow thruster which would be the answer to the depth question.

  • Scott Jamieson Apr 8, 2012, 12:13 pm

    I own a 1990 65 Mac and single handed sailing is a breeze. More to the point, it is impossible to match the ride this vessel delivers – speed / stability. All being said, if you buy a good 65 Mac hull and machinery you can refurbish the interior better than new for about 20K US, try that on a vessel with a lot of wood work. My time spent on board involves little maintenance other than cleaning.

    Here comes the big hit, the Big Mac looks hot and it is. When you fly by other sailboats crewed by 4+, working their sails to crank out another 1/2 knot and you are laid back single handed with out sail concern reality sets in, what a machine. Roger MacGregor exceeded all of his expectations. In fact, most vessel hulls of this exceptional purity combined with balanced rigging happen with focused luck. Roger had huge yacht building experience, massive focus on design and a little help from the sailing gods.

    Mine is not for sale.

    Good luck.

  • Scott Jamieson Apr 8, 2012, 12:54 pm

    A few more comments on the Big Mac, I dumped the a/c system, the water maker and all the other excess maintenance equipment. Now I have a simplistic blue water cruiser with average annual maintenance costs of $3,500. I use acrylic on the hull that lasts about a year pending on the latitude.

    Now I have a pure super fast sailboat that can achieve 25 knots down wind and cruises under power @ 10 knots in a big seas better than any power yacht @ 1.7 gallons of fuel / hr.

    My Mother 80 and Father 88 are not marine oriented. I took them out for a run under power and a mariners warning was announced on channel 16 . Sure enough, with in 1/2 an hour we were in a 25+ knot wind. My Dad had no idea of the weather conditions due to the big Mac’s stability While enjoying a bit to eat he commented on other boats were passed asking why they were slashing about.

    Cheers!

    • Kelly Reed Apr 8, 2012, 5:29 pm

      Scott Jamieson— I love my Big Mac too. Let’s compare sailing tales sometime. Email me: sunsets at watercrafters dot com

      Fair Winds.

  • TheOldMan Jul 26, 2012, 4:43 pm

    Back in early 1995, I went to a boat show in Alameda, CA and got hooked on buying a Mac 65. I found the brochure and price list the other day in my library. New with all standard equipment $150,000 and with the extras I wanted, about $165,000. This was back in my bachelor days and I figured I would sail up/down the West coast. Why didn’t I get it? I listened to the naysayers about quality but the biggest issue was finding a mooring (Santa Cruz, SF Bay, Monterey?). Now with family…well it’s not going to happen but I look back with more than a little regret. I picked up a used 1990 Porsche 928 instead, which I still have. I already had a garage so I didn’t have the same “mooring” issue.

  • Ian Jan 13, 2013, 4:24 am

    We have a very late model 65 with an enclosed cockpit, thanks to the engineering skills of the first owner, a bow thruster, very usefull + several other really usefull items not usually found in these superb boats We sailed it from the Med to Aus with no problems. In very steep, big short seas there is no equal I no of. Does she flex, yes, but it seems not to matter at all. I watched other boats and was very glad I was on this one. Sailing against an excellent Deerfoot, we easily outpaced them and we were extremely heavily loaded. Against a Beneteau 50 we were always much faster, reaching Fatu Hiva from Panama abut five days ahead, that’s really usefull, especially on these long legs. All the negative stuff helped me to buy a really great boat at a really good price. So I thank all the doom sayers. But if they could leave off when I finally have to sell her it would help.

    • Kelly Jan 13, 2013, 1:54 pm

      Ian— any chance of getting your email and with you directly? I would love to get more info about how you were able to enclose the cockpit and which bowthruster was installed. If so, message me at sunsets at watercrafters com.

      thx

  • Capt. Rusty Carney Jan 13, 2013, 4:47 pm

    Ian-I would love to see some pictures of your enclosed cockpit and to know if you installed a retractable bowthruster.

    • Ian Jan 13, 2013, 7:00 pm

      Rusty, Please contact Kelly, previous message, who now has my contact details.
      Regards, Ian

  • Mark L Jan 20, 2013, 6:44 pm

    Great comments fro MacGregor lovers !
    I have owned Hull #23 for just over a year,
    She is the low deck, short rig. Race interior (no cabins or woodwork) I have only sailed her on the Columbia River 60 miles east of Portland Oregon. The summer winds are great 20 to 40 knots 5 days a week. She loves the wind, kind of fast for a skinny river, only 1/2 to 3/4 miles wide. still reach/run at 15 to 18 kts !
    Hoping for the San Juans this summer and South to the warm climates for next winter. keep the stories coming.

  • Flicker Nov 13, 2013, 1:28 am

    Does anyone know whether the original M65 is faster than or less stiff than the M65 Pilothouse? I like the low look, and the comparative lightness of the M65, but I do not want to sacrifice much speed. Thanks.

  • scott jamieson Nov 13, 2013, 9:58 pm

    the original m65 was 22,000 lbs is fast down wind in light wind but does twist and was built more as a coastal cruiser / racer. The mac 65 pilot
    house is 32,000 lbs and faster in winds over 17 +- knots, is coastal or blue water and is a rare certified ABS standard yacht that exceeds by 2 times the tensile strength in most areas.

  • Flicker Nov 14, 2013, 2:17 am

    Thanks. I do want a blue water boat and right now all I see in a range I can afford are the Odessa hull#1 which is purportedly stiffer than any of the other early M65s (is this true?) and a Pilot House in the Dominican Republic that sounds from the advert to be minimally used and minimally kept up or improved. They are listed on Yachtworld. Any thoughts?

  • Scott Jamieson Nov 14, 2013, 11:14 pm

    I saw the 13o K Dominion Republic PH 65. It will want a cool 70K US to overhaul for bluewater if you are conservative and if the main engine is good. A new main engine is another 30K. If you want coastal only you could do it for 40K but again, you may need a new main engine. I did a complete over haul / re-fit on a better PH and hit 60K with out the main engine. Pretty inexpensive for a world class 65′ yacht.

    You could buy the PH 65 for 120 K or less, throw in 60K plus a new main engine for 30K and you have a lot of yacht for $210,00

    Best to transport it to Thialand, huge refit for your buck!

    Good luck.

    • John Nov 15, 2013, 9:45 am

      Hi Scott,

      Thanks for fielding that one. I hadn’t a clue. Very interesting, and I think realistic, numbers on the PH65.

  • paolo de filippis Jan 29, 2014, 9:15 pm

    Gentlemen , I did sail the Carabian on a Mac 65 from Saint Marteen to
    Trinidad-Tobago ,a trip I will never forget, 45 knot winds,22 knot espeed,reaching.
    I would like to buy a good used one or meet a few people and have them build new ones.
    I am all ears

  • Mark Feb 13, 2014, 6:21 pm

    I had a Catalina 30 and was taken for a day cruise on a friends Mac 65 and fell in love. I am hoping to acquire one in the near future and would like to ask this group concerning truck-shipping a Mac 65. Has anyone had one truck shipped for any significant distance? Was a special trailer required? Any issues.
    Thanks
    Mark

  • Scott Jamieson Feb 13, 2014, 6:51 pm

    Hello Mark,
    I bought trucked my 1990 PH Mac 65 from SanFranscisco to Vancouver Canada about 5 years ago. The cost for transport was about $7,500 US funds and packaging the mast et al at the marina was an extra $3,500 including the lift. You will probably need to take the rudder off as well.
    The important issue is to contract a yacht transport company that does not farm out / sub-contract the work but use their own power unit and float specifically built for hauling big yachts like the Mac 65. These type of specialty movers also come with a driver that understands load distribution. Make no mistake the Mac PH 65 is very rugged and will withstand the transport and the load bearing of the keel sits on 3.5 inches of solid layup fiberglass.
    Make sure you have a survey before you buy and insure it through your marine underwriter locally including transport to the value paid plus shipping and tax. On the down side I was not there for the loading and transport. I wish I had been there for the loading as your the only on who truely cares. Example: rudder removal – components and re-assembly / packaging / step down the mast and label the wiring / making sure the rigging is not kinked / roller furlings packed so they don’t kink ect.

    Looking back I am still happy with my decision to transport as the vessel was not bluewater seaworthy and the process did go well. Remember, these vessels can hit a rock on the keel at 10 kts and they are OK so transport should be fine with good load distribution.
    Best of luck.

    • John Feb 13, 2014, 9:54 pm

      Hi Scott,

      Thanks so much for fielding these Mac 65 questions, much appreciated.

  • Mark Feb 13, 2014, 7:49 pm

    Scott,
    Thank you, this is exactly the data I was requesting. I would think the Mac PH65 would have to be among the longest/largest vessels it would be possible to truck transport! Very good to know you did it successfully.
    Thanks
    Mark

  • Scott Jamieson Feb 13, 2014, 8:47 pm

    When she rolled into the yard an hour early I entered a euphoric state. It was one of the great moments in my life. I had not smoked in 28 years but bummed a cig and enjoyed it intensely.
    Make sure you transport it to a yard with good machine shop facilities as this helps to accomplish alot in a short time even if the yard is more per day it’s worth it!

  • Scott Jamieson Feb 13, 2014, 10:11 pm

    Hi John,

    I am a Haligonian, and have enjoyed a few rum & cokes with friends in Lunenburg including Chester race week X 10.

    Cheers!

    Scott

  • Kelly Reed Feb 17, 2014, 2:08 pm

    Mark,
    I met the captain of Independence (www dot sailindependence dot com) and he told me he trucked his BigMac from the west coast to the east coast a couple years ago. He didn’t share any horror stories.

  • Chris Feb 17, 2014, 3:37 pm

    The previous owner of my 1990 pilothouse shipped it by 18 wheeler crossed the country twice. The mast was badly damaged in transit, which apparently some insurance paid for a replacement.

  • Ashley Tyrrell Apr 20, 2014, 5:02 pm

    Seen a Mac ’65 for sale….. looking to relocate and live aboard around St Vincent… All pointers greatly recieved, thanks. Oh and great reading

  • michael Apr 22, 2014, 9:52 am

    Hi Ashley;

    I too am planning to relocate and living aboard for the next two years, when i came across the mac 65 as a possible live aboard. Contact me if you might want to share ideas, thoughts and or expenses.

    Cheers,

    Michael

  • niels Nov 18, 2014, 11:49 am

    I rue the day I was swayed by “expert” advice from a well know chap who sells his advice. I did not buy a Mac65. Instead, I ended up paying $250K more for a lesser boat albeit with a beautiful interior. I now realize that there is a sea of difference between 10 knots and 6 knots, suddenly small weather windows become viable and most journeys don’t begin or end with a bashing. That beautiful, high end joinery doesn’t make it any more comfortable.

  • Robert Stryker Jan 23, 2015, 4:44 pm

    I crewed and 1st mated on the 65 from Turkey to South Africa, leaving Egypt the Captain/ Owner said to wake him in so many hours I did, only to find out that we had past our turn to Djubuti and exceeded our supposed hull speed at 14.75 knots average, easy to do with 25 to 27 knots down wind. I guess he should have told me there was a hull speed. The smoothest boat ride I ever had.

  • J.L. Feb 9, 2015, 1:21 pm

    I am also looking for the stiffness issue of the non pilothouse versions.
    Are there any other early hulls that would have been reinforced/ engineered to another level of stiffness? Is there anyone ( current owner of the hull#1, perhaps) that would have the experties/ knowledge to comment? Since the area where I race and cruise, I am interested in the tallest possible rig and the lighter version hull. ( Winds in our area are mostly from light to medium)
    My own ambition and passion is slowly shifting from racing to expedition type of cruising and exploration. I have done both kind of sailing for thirtyfive years ….and simply getting tired of spending too much time on relatively short hops due to lack of waterline length. My next boat will not have teak anywhere and ULDB seems to be the only way to go – and MacGregor low version the only I could consider budget wise.

    Someone brought up an idea to get a group of people together to build new hulls. I would take it even further and have the old deck mold modified and used for a same length new hull! (Yacht design has gone further from 1984 even thou some of the key features have stayed the same!)

    Anyway, a great forum! This IS from someone that has never sailed Mac65 but would love to – especially after all trash/negative talk from other forums on the same topic

    • John Feb 9, 2015, 1:32 pm

      Hi J.L.

      Sorry, I can’t help on the Mac65 specific issues. But I think the idea of long this light cruising boats is a good one. We are currently working on the Adventure 40 and one day there maybe an Adventure 50, or maybe even longer.

  • Flicker Feb 9, 2015, 5:45 pm

    Hull #1 is Odessa, for sale on Yachtworld. It is reportedly in very good repair. The broker says her hull is stronger than any other MacGregor, but if I remember correctly, the owner said it wasn’t particularly overbuilt compared to the others.

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